Monday, July 22, 2013

DVD Review: Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose.


Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose

(Released May 14, 2013 by Warner Home Video)

A partial, but still Looong, DVD Review by Joe Torcivia


 SUMMARY: In TAZ-MANIA, “…The SKY’S always YELLOW!” Be glad it never SNOWS there!

But, Taz LIKE snow!
TAZ-MANIA was a key player in the liberation of television animation from the horrors of the seventies and most of the eighties. Sadly, its role in the pantheon of great modern-era animated series is largely forgotten today. Let’s look back and remember, shall we?

Once upon a time, as the 1960s drew to a close, television animation began to really suck!

It sucked, and sucked, and sucked some more! And, it just kept on sucking! Mightily, did it suck! Verily and forsooth, the sucking became-eth the stuff of legend!

Through the seventies, and well into the eighties, it continued to suck… until The Walt Disney Company moved to reverse the trend with its syndicated series DUCKTALES in 1987, and Ralph Bakshi may have arguably worked an even greater feat of magic by secreting his MIGHTY MOUSE: THE NEW ADVENTURES into a Saturday morning broadcast network’s lineup.

Fear not, Young Fellow... The sucking has ended! ...I think!
Alas, even “The Mighty Ralph” could not withstand assaults from the pressure groups that had ruled – and ruined – Saturday morning network animation, completely obliterating anything resembling quality, all-ages entertainment.

Conversely, Disney’s DUCKTALES flourished in the relatively new arena of original syndicated afternoon animated programming (something that NO LONGER EXISTS today, thanks to the encroachment of extended, profitable local newscasts, and the unfortunate proliferation of trashy syndicated talk shows). This new “Afternoon Animation Boom” spawned CHIP AND DALE’S RESCUE RANGERS and TALE SPIN, and ultimately resulted in a two-hour block titled “The Disney Afternoon”.
The sucking has ended for CERTAIN!

Warner Bros., clearly noticing Disney’s success, woke up and wanted in!

"Wake up -- and welcome to the nineties!"
Thus, for fall 1990, to counter Disney’s TALE SPIN, Warner Bros. introduced TINY TOON ADVENTURES. This series, where “young toons” aspired to grow into the roles of their classic Looney Tunes counterparts, was both refreshing (…after all, it COULD have been “Baby Looney Tunes” – oh, wait… that came later!) and clever (its pervasive “cuteness factor” notwithstanding).
         
Despite my great fondness for the achievements of such a trend-setting first effort (See: the later ANIMANIACS and PINKY AND THE BRAIN), one would not be remiss to assert that TTA failed to best TALE SPIN, which was the Walt Disney Television Animation machine arguably operating at the height of its powers.

And, with Disney laying claim to the 1990-1991 Season’s competition, so began an annual contest between the two toon titans… that would not last anywhere near as long as I’d expected it to.


For 1991-1992, Disney’s entry was the enormously (and deservedly) popular DARKWING DUCK, while Warner countered with the subject of this review – TAZ-MANIA.
"Taz-Mainie-WHO?"

TAZ-MANIA, I should point out, had the disadvantage of not going head-to-head with DARKWING DUCK in afternoon syndication (as TINY TOON ADVENTURES did with TALE SPIN), but was deposited into the new “Fox Kids” Saturday morning lineup where the 13 episodes on this DVD set were broadcast. But, one might make the case that, as a Sat AM show, TAZ-MANIA had the rougher road to hoe (for all the reasons that made Sat AM so atrocious in the first place), and still succeeded.
Taz want DUCK for dinner!

In my view, at least, it was the first time a Warner show EQUALED its Disney counterpart in terms of both quality and enjoyment! Even if you disagree and give it to DARKWING (which I certainly won’t argue), there’s no doubt the tide was irrevocably turned by the coming of TAZ-MANIA and the “Damn the Torpedoes!” confidence it instilled in the folks at Warner TV Animation. Imagine “finding your footing” with a character that “spins”.


The following season WB ran out the unprecedented BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES against Disney’s GOOF TROOP, and things soon deteriorated for Disney to the point where it became ANIMANIACS vs. (Choke!) BONKERS!
Sorry folks, but we won't even picture those Disney shows!  ...You'll thank us!

The animation competition, that looked as if it would thrill us fans for years to come, was over before we knew it and Warner Bros. never looked back – instituting the “WB Network” and its “KIDS WB” Sat AM block that gave us such great series as PINKY AND THE BRAIN, FREAKAZOID!, THE SYLVESTER AND TWEETY MYSTERIES, SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, and BATMAN BEYOND!

 
But, in all this, let us not forget that it was TAZ-MANIA that took a nearly-forgotten (but KEY) step in closing and/or evening the gap between the animated product of Warner and Disney, and helped set Warner Bros. TV animation on the extremely high trajectory it would follow for its next decade or more.

On a more personal note, it was while becoming a regular viewer of TAZ-MANIA that I came to the conclusion that "good TV cartoons" were not merely an anomaly, or a short-lived blip on the overall entertainment continuum, but might very well be "here to stay".  ...And, for most of the nineties and shortly beyond, they were!  

Further, TAZ-MANIA delivered, what was to me, a perfect balance of the good old violent slapstick, that cartoon fans had craved since the advent of parents watchdog groups, and consistently great and downright funny dialogue, which the older and more classic slapstick cartoons usually lacked.  None of the other great series created to this point of the TV animation resurgence really did that on a consistent basis. 



As if to perpetuate its unjustly ignored place in modern TV animation history, Warner Home Video has waited until 2013 to finally release TAZ-MANIA on DVD. But, now they finally HAVE “given the Devil his due”!



Oh, and about that “Partial” part… I’m pleased to review Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose – for its FIRST FOUR episodes.


If we waited for all 13, the review would be a VERY long time in coming. And, given the detail with which I tend to discuss the episodes, it would be an unwieldy read – or it would have to be posted over several parts. Besides, these first four really give you a taste of what TAZ-MANIA is all about, and introduce many of the series' best characters. These episodes are from the initial 1991-1992 season, and originally aired on the “Fox Kids” Sat AM block:

Like Father Like Son”/ “Frights of Passage”: We are introduced to the unlikely concept of Taz as a nuclear family member – meeting his frenetic super-mom Jean, laid back Bing Crosby-like dad “Hugh Devil” (A nice joke in itself!), teen sister Molly, and little bro Jake! Funny thing is each member of the Devil Family speaks incessantly, while Taz has the same limited powers of speech as “that Tasmanian Devil” in the Robert McKimson theatrical shorts. Hugh attempts to “tame”, or at least “calm” his wayward son but, needless to say, it works the other way around.

In the second cartoon, we meet Francis X. Bushlad (named after famed silent-era actor Francis X. Bushman, whose career lasted long enough to guest star in such 1960s TV classics as BATMAN and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA – the latter being his last role, per IMDB, which aired after his death!), a yuppified young member of the “mud-people”, whose right of passage (per his Thurston Howell-like father) is to bring back a Tasmanian Devil. Here, Taz is far more like his savage, untamed classic-self – except he wins each battle of wits!
Bushlad not smart... like Rabbit!
Francis X. Bushlad, too, speaks incessantly around Taz, revealing that this device will be a hallmark of the series. If you enjoy verbal / dialogue humor as much as I do, this is a very funny approach to take, especially with a starring character like Taz.


The Dog the Turtle Story”: Taz mistakes a turtle for a dog, and takes him home to be a pet. But the real story here is the introduction of Bull and Axel Gator, two animal trappers whose aim is to capture a Tasmanian Devil “…for the zoo-going children of the world!”

Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Axel?
In a prior post, our friend and commenter “Comicbookrehab” likened Bull and Axel to Warner’s later “Pinky and The Brain” and I think that’s a superb analogy! One might also draw parallels to the (unfortunately) short-lived MGM Tex Avery duo “George and Junior”, as this character-defining exchange reveals:


BULL: “Axel, you just said SOMETHING STUPID – so, you know what TIME it is, don’t you?”


AXEL: “Yeah… Seventeen and a half minutes after three.”


BULL: “Uh-uh!” (Whips-out a club)


AXEL (realizes): “Oooh!”


SOUND: WHAM!


BULL: “Now, you know WHY that had to happen, don’t you?” And, so on

Of course, Tex Avery’s “George” would have simply said: “Bend over, Junior!”, and kicked him!

I'm BENT OVER, George!
I was "relentlessly cheerful" back when it was depressing! 
 
John Astin (former star of THE ADDAMS FAMILY), as the “relentlessly-cheerful-in-the-face-of-painful-disaster” Bull, turns-in one of the flat-out FUNNIEST performances seen to that point in the new TV animation renaissance! He, too, speaks incessantly – though in a “relentlessly cheerful” manner. And, as Rob Paulsen’s “Pinky” perfectly complemented Maurice La Marche’s “The Brain”, so Jim Cummings’ Axel complements Bull. It was ALWAYS the biggest treat for me, when Bull and Axel would show up on TAZ-MANIA.

Gee, Bull... Should we have tried to take over the world instead?

Don't be ridiculous, Axel!  How would THAT help the Zoo-Going Children of the World?

 
War and Pieces” / “Airborne Airhead”: On a rainy day, the three Devil children are left home in the family’s split-level, modern cave. Taz and Molly wage war with one another, using poor little innocent Jake as their mutual intermediary and “agent of destruction”. Highlight: Taz’s VIDEO GAME, where a “digitized Tasmanian Devil” travels a path, gobbling-up one “digitized Bugs Bunny” after another!

Like Brother, (don't) like Sister?
Great line by Hugh Devil, to allay Jean’s fears over leaving the kids alone: “Taz has been much calmer, since he and I had that chat about the replacement cost of furniture!”

Like Brother, like Brother, these guys love each other!
Familiar, perhaps?
Then, enter Timothy and Daniel aka “The Platypus Bros.”, a pair of insufferably nerdy, identical “platypi” (?), except that one wears glasses and the other does not, with the obsessive politeness of Warner’s “The Goofy Gophers”, and the bill and lisp of Daffy Duck. They live in their own “mutually self-congratulatory bubble” and fancy themselves as mechanically inclined, inventive geniuses.


Here’s a typical slice of their dialogue:


PLATYPUS # 1: “Here’s the problem, just as I suspected! Somebody installed the what-cha-ma-hootchie backwards!”


PLATYPUS # 2: “You have such a GIFT for technical language, O’ scholarly sibling!”


PLATYPUS # 1: “Elementary, my Dear Duplicate!”

Need I say that, in their sped-up, Rob Paulsen voices, they (all together now) speak incessantly around Taz, while assisting the Devil in his unsuccessful efforts to secure a LARGE EGG from the top of an immensely sharp, high needle-peaked rock formation. Attempt after attempt violently backfires on Taz, as the Brothers obliviously congratulate each other and / or analyze their “brilliant” techniques.

Are they measuring Taz for his COFFIN?

Two great moments: Taz falls from the incredibly lofty peak, yelling unintelligibly (as is his custom) all the way. On his downward trajectory, he FREEZES in mid-air to take a DEEP INHALING BREATH, so that he can continue the yelling, once his fall resumes! The Platypus Bros actually remark on the cartoon’s “Surprise Ending” to come. No spoilers, but it’s even more of a surprise than we (or they) think!
I KNOW three's a crowd, dear brother of mine, but who's going to TELL HIM?

Along with Bull and Axel, and the upcoming Didgeri Dingo, The Platypus Bros round out my three favorite “guest pairings” with Taz on the show.


Battling Bushrats” / “Devil in the Deep Blue Sea”:


Taz, honey, you stay away from that BIRD while I’m gone. Try and CONTROL YOURSELF, please. Besides, if you leave the bird alone, I’ll give you a SURPRISE when I get back from the store. Taz, I KNOW I can TRUST you!”

Now, Taz, dear... You KNOW I have eyes in the back of my head!
 
With these words of super-mom-love, Jean Devil leaves a large, succulent roasted “seabird” on the kitchen counter to cool – and off she goes to run about 65 errands in the space of an hour. Taz TRIES to suppress temptation – he really does, and succeeds – but eventually finds himself in the middle of a war between “The Bushrats” ( a pack of pastel-colored, spear-carrying, vaguely-German-speaking, ravenous rats in grass skirts) and a colony of militaristic red ants, over the bird-bounty!

Bushrats and Military Ants?  What a delightful imagination you have, Taz!

Taz goes through all sorts of heck to defend the seabird from the hungry warring factions – and actually gets the bird back in time for Jean’s return, only to get a “toy seabird” as his surprise… which he promptly EATS! …No one speaks incessantly around Taz in this episode.


THEN, we get to the REALLY good stuff:

How you doin’! I’m Didgeri Dingo! I’m a DINGO! I SCAVANGE!” Yep, we’ve just met Didgeri Dingo, another favorite character from this show! Didgeri, while characteristically scavenging, finds a “Treasure Map and a Key to a sunken chest”.
Yep-eroonie!  I do nothing but TALK through the whole cartoon, too!

Now, let me see…”, he says speaking incessantly (as TAZ-MANIA characters are wont to do) in a smug and obnoxious Rob Paulsen voice, “…Who can I find that’s DUMB – uh, gullible enough to get that treasure for me? Someone of courage and stamina, yet of the LOWEST POSSIBLE INTELLIGENCE!
       
Guess who spins into the scene.

Uh-oh!

This is the famous TAZ HATE WATER!episode that I’ve been waiting about 15-20 years to see again! And it did not disappoint.


TAZ HATE WATER!

 
Many painfully humorous deep-sea diving gags ensue, with poor Taz on the receiving end – while Didgeri (all together now) speaks incessantly around him.

 In rapid succession, Taz comes up from the briny with: a drum of toxic waste, a life preserver from the Titanic, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and an explosive underwater mine.

Oh, did I fail to mention that: "TAZ HATE WATER!"
 He runs afoul of a giant squid – French accented variety, wearing a beret, who clearly mistakes Taz for a previous visitor:
  
 So, Captain Clousteau, we MEET AGAIN, huh? Ha-ha-ha! But, ZIS TIME, ze advantage is MINE!”, he says with all arms full of the nastiest looking kitchen implements this side of Hollywood Golden Age violent theatrical cartoons!

Poor Taz can't even call on Jerry Lewis for help!

 
Oh, and there’s a gang of “West Side Story”-inspired hoodlum sharks… And what diving cartoon wouldn’t be complete without an encounter with a “slumbering (opening and closing) giant clam”?

Did ya REALLY think there wouldn't be a giant clam?

Above the waves, and literally above it all, Didgeri comments on the action thusly: “Oh, man! That’s GOTTA HURT!”, “That’s not supposed to BEND THAT WAY!”, and the meta-declaration “This is too terrible to watch – we really better FADE TO BLACK!
...Or, is that "Fade to black AND BLUE!"
 
Taz eventually gets fed up with the arrangement, and takes matters into his own hands… um, grubby paws. Too bad for Didgeri Dingo!


OVERALL: You can’t go wrong with this! Be a part of the ascension of Warner Bros. as the premiere purveyor of television animation for the last near-quarter century with Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose!

…And remember, Volume Two is coming this August 6th!


...Taz won't let you forget it, either! 


2 comments:

scarecrow33 said...

Great review, Joe--as always. I love the asides and references to other series such as Duck Tales and Tale Spin, that really help to put this in the context of its original broadcast milieu.

This is one series I missed in its original run...I had heard of it, and occasionally would try to watch it, but inevitably whenever I turned it on, I would get the message "Taz Mania will be right back" or some such, and then after the obligatory twenty or thirty commercials, the END CREDITS! In other words, I never caught it as it was starting, only as it was finishing. At the time, it was not such a loss, as there were plenty of quality animated programs to choose from, so I never really made much effort. NOW, however, having read your enthusiastic and highly entertaining review, I will seek this one out!

I was hoping for a reference to the Gold Key comic book "The Tazmanian Devil and His Tasty Friends" which is probably the Taz's ultimate appearance in comics. Maybe some day you can review that issue?

Hope your summer is progressing well!

Joe Torcivia said...

Scarecrow:

To me, the tale of the times that spawned TAZ-MANIA is a fascinating subject that I wish someone would chronicle in the overall.

As I view it, the key point to take away from that portion of the post is that it was TAZ-MANIA that finally convinced a rightfully skeptical me that good television cartoons were not only “back”, but “here to stay”. The parade of DUCKTALES, TALE SPIN, TINY TOON ADVENTURES, et al (great as they all were!) did not convince me of this, until I experienced a few weeks of TAZ-MANIA. Then, I was certain we were entering a new Nirvana of animation… and I was correct!

I’m not even exactly certain WHY my animation optimism chose that particular time to kick-in. Maybe, until then, I still felt that things could return to the horrors of the seventies and eighties at any moment. All I DO know is that I was waiting for a very long time for a show like TAZ-MANIA – and, for too many years, wondered why all we got was “cute”, toy-based”, or otherwise uninteresting teen-clone stuff.

I’ll also say that TAZ-MANIA is a series you ought to see sometime. It still delivers its share of laughs (as I describe in the post) even now – but give it many extra points if you view it through 1991 lenses.

Most oddly of all, it is the GUEST CHARACTERS – and not Taz, himself – that supply most of those laughs. Maybe that’s why Robert McKimson never tried him in his own cartoon. Still, he DID have that one-shot Gold Key comic book that you mention – and his appearances in the Gold Key DAFFY DUCK comic of the same period were always a highlight for me.

I like the idea of reviewing "The Tazmanian Devil and His Tasty Friends" – not to mention doing more comics reviews overall. I’m, unfortunately, experiencing a period of furious activity at work – and the posts of the near-future will tend to be “those of greater expedience”. Or, pre-written, etc.

Then again, there’s an issue of DAFFY DUCK (…the one I might very well consider the GREATEST single issue of DAFFY DUCK) that also sounds appealing to write about. …And, it’s one that has Taz in it! Such a review would read enough like a “LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS” DVD Review that I could almost use the same basic template. There’s also a FLINTSTONES comic I’ve wanted to do as well.

…Oh, and look out for a YOGI BEAR comic in our next post! That’s all I’ll say for now… except it was an “expedient” post to do. …And I rarely skimp, even on the “expedient” posts, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Summer, alas, has been very hot and busy. But, Blogging is always there to recharge and refresh! …Say, anyone else feel great right now? …YEAH!